By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has announced a new reporting requirement for New York attorneys. Beginning this month, attorneys must report the amount of hours spent providing free volunteer legal services and the amount of financial contributions made to organizations that provide legal services to the under-served.
“While the legal profession in our state selflessly provides millions of hours of pro bono work to help people of limited means each year, the civil legal needs of low-income New Yorkers are enormous and continue to grow as a result of the uncertain economy and the recent devastation of Superstorm Sandy,” Lippman said in a statement.
The new reporting requirements of Part 118 and Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct were based on the recommendations of the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York. According to the Task Force, New York joins seven other states that have instituted pro bono reporting requirements to promote and encourage pro bono participation.
New York does not require that attorneys provide volunteer legal services, but there is a benchmark for the suggested amount of hours an attorney should spend providing legal help to those in need. It is recommended that an attorney provide 20 pro bono hours a year; that benchmark has been increased to 50 hours.
The increase in suggested pro bono hours is a result of a recent American Bar Association survey of pro bono participation in New York. The survey revealed that the average attorney already performs 66 hours of pro bono each year.
Lippman has made pro bono service a priority. As previously reported by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York became the first state to require lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono work as a condition for getting a license. Law students sitting for the bar exam in 2015 will have to show that they have preformed the mandated pro bono hours before they can sit for the New York State Bar Exam. The new rule is aimed at helping to fill the legal needs of New York's poor.
“I have every confidence that the steps we take today will help increase pro bono service and narrow the enormous access to justice gap in our state,” Lippman stated.
Currently, while New York lawyers are required to report their pro bono hours, providing volunteer free legal services is still a suggested recommendation and is not mandated for licensed New York attorneys.